Picture a busy pediatric office. A little girl sits in an exam room with her mom. She is still in her PJs and holds her favorite stuffed bear. They have come into my office today for a sore throat and cough. As I flip through the girl’s chart on the computer, I notice that she hasn’t had a check-up in over four years and is behind on her routine immunizations. When I ask why they haven’t had a check-up for a while, Mom says, “I didn’t think she needed one.” This happens almost daily in my office. I know that even my own children were behind a time or two for their yearly check-ups, so you’ll get no judgment from me.
There are many reasons why kids don’t get yearly check-ups. Sometimes folks get busy. I can relate. Life can be a little overwhelming. Some parents have high insurance deductibles and can’t afford the co-pays. Some parents just forget—no judgment. Some parents may not know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends yearly check-ups for children over the age of three years. Infants & toddlers have routine check-ups at 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 24, 30 and 36 months. But after age three, it’s easy to forget. You get busy with birthday parties and play dates. There’s always grocery shopping, laundry, and housework to do. Trust me, I get it.
Parents sometimes think that if they have brought their child in for a sick visit, like an ear infection, that the sick visit counts as a check-up. It doesn’t. They may not realize that the two visits are extremely different. A sick visit focuses entirely on what is wrong today. Healthcare providers are taught to diagnose and treat the current issue, such as the ear infection, whereas well visits focus on the entire scope of the child’s health and development.
These annual well visits are very important for so many reasons. Well visits are generally given much more time in the healthcare provider’s schedule because of the increased complexity of the visit. The child’s height and weight is measured, as is their blood pressure. The child’s body mass index (BMI) is analyzed to determine if her weight is healthy for her height, or if the child is underweight, overweight, or obese. Over one-third of the nation’s children are overweight, and a third of those children are obese. Weight issues contribute to higher rates of hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and heart disease in adulthood. Weight issues can easily be caught and changes implemented early, helping kids lead long and healthy lives.
Routine screenings such as vision and hearing are completed. Blood work may be done to check for anemia, blood lead, or cholesterol levels. The physical examination is important to evaluate the body for any physical issues. Issues such as heart murmurs, scoliosis (spinal curvature), dental cavities, eczema, and many other conditions can be diagnosed during well examinations. The annual check-up also allows for routine and life-saving immunizations to be updated.
Developmental screenings are completed which evaluate the child’s level of development including moods, speech/language, and physical movement. Developmental screenings catch issues like depression, anxiety, developmental delays, speech/language delays, and autism. Once diagnosed, the item of concern can be appropriately addressed and a treatment plan can be started.
Check-ups are great times to discuss any concerns that you may have about your child’s health and development. Those little worries about your child that keep you awake at night may be nothing, but it’s a good idea to talk about them with your pediatric healthcare provider. If there is an issue, it’s best to get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Be certain that your child is receiving the very best medical care. We don’t want anything less for our kids. Schedule your child’s yearly check-up today with your pediatric healthcare provider. See you then!
Melanie J.Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Pediatric Specialists in Norfolk. Her first book, Raising Today’s Baby, is available on Amazon or at www.RaisingTodaysChild.com. Follow her musings on her blog www.RaisingTodaysChild.com. Follow her on Facebook: Dr. Melanie J Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP and twitter @DrMelanie4kids.